Guide to Designing Your Own Gothic Wedding Dress

When it comes to wedding dresses, most girls have a very strict concept in their heads, and gothic girls are no different. You know from the outset your dress is going to be dark and dramatic, and you might even have a photograph or a character from a movie or book whose dress you’d like to replicate.

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Gothic wedding dress (photo from Gothic Underground)

Even with all the different gothic wedding dress boutiques online it can sometimes be impossible to find the PERFECT dress. That’s why many gothic brides hire a dress designer or seamstress to create their dream wedding dress. If that’s you, this handy guide will help you find a designer or dressmaker and work with them to create your dream dress.

Why Have Your Gothic Wedding Dress Custom Made?

There are many reasons you’d want your gothic wedding dress custom made. If you’re anything like me, you searched every gothic wedding dress website for months looking for exactly what you wanted – and you didn’t find it. If you haven’t found the perfect dress in a catalogue, perhaps it’s time you considered creating it from scratch. A seamstress or dressmaker will take your ideas and create a design that exactly fits your vision.

The other advantage of having a gothic wedding dress custom made is that it will always be designed to fit you perfectly. You can add or subtract details from the overall design and create a shape that’s flattering to your body. Because you’re creating the dress completely from scratch, there’s no need to compromise.

And finally, hiring a seamstress or designer to create your wedding dress is a great way of supporting local designers. You’re not paying for a dress mass-produced in China but a one off bespoke design that fits your personality – and your body – perfectly.

The Difference Between a Dress Designer and Seamstress

Before you approach vendors about your wedding dress, it’s important to understand whether you’re looking for a designer or a seamstress – because they both have different roles.

A Designer is like an architect for clothes, creating dresses from the initial design and pattern-making stage right up until the finished product. You usually choose a designer based on his/her style – elements of the pieces she’s made that you love. A designer sits down with you and goes over your ideas and reference drawings and turns their creative mind to dreaming up the perfect dress for you. You don’t go to a designer to ask for a specific dress – in fact, it’s insulting to ask a designer to copy another designer’s dress – but your dress will be designed with your taste and personality in mind.

A Seamstress usually makes and mends clothing following a pattern. They will make whatever you ask them to make, as long as it’s within their abilities. They may not be able to accommodate drastic changes to a pattern. A seamstress is a great option if you want a certain style of dress made for a lower cost, provided you have a pattern or a lot of reference material available.

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Amy's - a designer and costume maker with Heritage - made her own beautiful steampunk wedding dress for our latest photo shoot (photo by Jess Manning)

If your priority is to have a certain style of dress made for a lower cost than a bridal salon, you’d probably want to look for a seamstress.

Are You Ready to Hire a Designer or Seamstress?

You know it’s time to consider having your dress custom made if you feel as though you’ve exhausted all the gothic wedding dress suppliers and haven’t found anything that works. Many fashion-conscious brides also have favourite designers, so when planning their weddings that designer is their first choice.

If you want a gothic wedding dress custom made, it’s important that you know what you want. You’ll waste your designer’s/steamstress’ time and your money if you are still trying to make up your mind about your dress style. Go to your initial appointment with plenty of reference photos, colour swatches and sketches so the designer/seamstress can get an idea of what you want.

Finding a Designer/Seamstress

So you’ve decided you want a custom-made gothic wedding dress – that’s great! But where on earth do you find a designer/seamstress?

In the first instance, you should ask around your friends and family. Many people know someone who knows someone who is a seamstress or dress designer. And if they’re known to one of your friends, that friend can give you an honest assessment of their abilities. This can be a great way of finding someone who will create your gothic wedding dress for a lower price.

Another great idea for scoring a gothic wedding dress maker for cheap is to contact the costume department at your local theatre or the costume or fashion department at a nearby fashion school. Gothic wedding dresses are usually elaborate and dramatic – just what these designers love. And they’re used to working within a tight timeframe, so you can trust them to complete your dress on time.

If these avenues fail, then simply start googling “steamstress” and “wedding dress designer” in your area and call up a few. You can also find many gothic wedding dress designers on this blog or through sites like Etsy. Although it’s good to have a local designer to measure you in person, you can also work with an international designer and send your measurements via email.

Explain the type of dress you want to make and ask if they’ve ever made anything like it before and if they think they could do it. Many seamstresses do stunning work but can’t make a bustle or a corset. If you want elaborate beading you’ll need to find a designer who can do this. You want to hire someone who’s at least familiar with the techniques needed to create your gothic wedding dress.

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black wedding dress (photo from Gothic Underground)

Make sure they show you plenty of photographs and real garments. Photographs can be quite forgiving on clothing, so it’s important to get a close look at their work so you can see the attention to detail. When viewing garments, check the seams, the quality of stitching, the cut and the quality of the fabric and, if possible, how they look on a person.

Ask the designer or seamstress to explain how their process works. Many will ask you to choose and purchase the fabric yourself and bring it to them (usually seamstresses), while others will choose the fabric themselves or go shopping with you. Ask how often they need to you come in for fittings, and what their timeframe is for completing the dress.

After meeting with a few different vendors, choose one who you click with and who you feel could best realize your vision.

The Price of a Custom-Made Gothic Wedding Dress

The price of employing a designer or seamstress to create your gothic wedding dress will vary enormously, depending on the area you live in, the type of dress you want to make, the amount of fabric involved, the embellishments and detail required and the quality of the fabric.

Yes, there are website where you can pick up elaborate gothic wedding dresses for $200-500. I got my own wedding dress from one of these sites. But remember that many of these dresses are many in a country like China where workers are paid a few dollars an hour. You’re paying for the expertise of a local – so expect the prices to reflect that.

Many seamstresses will be able to create a designer look for considerably less than a bridal salon – it all depends on the style and complexity of the dress. After all, around 50-70% of the cost of a wedding dress is the salon’s mark-up, and your seamstress isn’t marking up nearly that much as her overheads are lower.

Don’t forget to ask about alternatives. A designer might start off looking at expensive silks, but a simple, “is there a more inexpensive fabric that will create the same effect?” will often get them back in your corner. Remember that many designers will have materials and styles with which they work exclusively.

Both seamstresses and designers will ask for a deposit up front – usually 50% of the final cost of the wedding dress. This is standard. Some vendors will give you an upfront cost for the whole job, while others will charge by the hour and will give you an estimate of how many more hours the job will take. Many operate without a contract, but it’s best for both parties if you insist on an agreement in writing – even if it’s just a confirmation email.

You might also want to budget in 10% as a contingency in case something goes wrong with the dress.
Working with Your Designer/Seamstress

If your designer or seamstress is local, he/she may want you to go in to the studio for fittings. The number of fittings you’ll need depends on the level of detail your dress requires. The more elaborate the gothic wedding dress, the more time will be needed to make it just right. Always show up to appointments on time and be prepared to spend a couple of afternoons standing still while someone sticks pins around your ankles!

When going in for fittings, bring your wedding shoes and jewelry with you. This will help the designer or seamstress get the hem and neckline perfect.

Designers and seamstresses have dealt with their fair share of bridezillas, so if you are gracious and understanding, even in the face of delays or fabric shortages, they’ll respond with top service and exquisite attention to detail.

A custom-made gothic wedding dress isn’t an impossible dream. There are plenty of gothic wedding dress designers out there who’d happily work with you on your ideas, as well as many experienced seamstresses who love dressing brides. Even the most frugal gothic bride might find room in her wedding budget for a custom-made gothic wedding dress!

Want more tips on finding that dream gothic wedding dress? Check out the Gothic Wedding Planner.